Did mechanic break my rack and pinion?

Last week I took my 2004 Honda Odyssey in to Firestone for a rear brake job and they ended up selling me an oil change, two new tires, alignment, an alternator drive belt, and two front engine mounts as well. When I picked up the vehicle late Friday afternoon, I noticed the power steering was making a whining noise and the steering seemed a little stiff. I took it back to Firestone Saturday morning, and they looked under the hood and said my power steering fluid was low, so they topped it off. That fixed the whining, but the steering still had a bit of a kink in it. They said it might be an air bubble in the line that would work itself out. Monday morning on my way to work, the whining was back and the steering very stiff and getting noticibly worse by the minute, so I took it directly back to Firestone.

It turns out the rack and pinion is leaking, and Firestone denies that it could have happened while they had the vehicle. The manager I spoke to said “all we did was replace a couple of belts – didn’t even get near the rack and pinion.” Well, that’s not all they did, but I have no idea if anything they did could have caused the current issue. I know there were no suspension or power steering issues before I took it in, and after I picked it up suddenly it’s leaking fluid like crazy. What can I do or say to press my case?

Find out where it’s leaking from.

And stop taking your vehicle to Firestone. You wouldn’t ask your dentist to perform your open heart surgery, and you shouldn’t ask a tire shop to do mechanical work. These chain stores are justifiably famous for selling work that doesn’t need to be done, and screwing up the work to boot.

Finally, were I in your shoes, I’d demand a refund for the alignment, and tell him I was turning him over to the attorney general for fraudulent business practices, because the guy admitted he didn’t perform one. You can’t do a proper alignment without adjusting the toe, and you can’t do that without working with the tie rods, which are connected to the steering rack.

In fact, if you screw that part of the job up, you can cause binding and a power steering fluid leak. Sound familiar?

An excellent, on-target response from Shadowfax!

If the leak is in the rack and pinion’s internal seals it is highly unlikely that the shop caused the problem. Is the leak from the tie rod boots? If so the problem is in the internal seals. If the leak is at a fitting or from a cracked housing then there is reason to question their work.

Like most things mechanical the rack and pinion will wear out and fail in some way and the seals are commonly the first thing to fail. Cars driven in urban traffic with the wheel often turned while the car is not moving, especially turning the wheel to its limits in either direction and holding it there have the greatest probability of early failure. At cruising speed there is minimal stress on the steering.

The method that the shop chose to lift/support the engine while replacing the front motor mounts is also a possible route to damaging the steering rack. Somebody who doesn’t really know what he is doing could be capable of doing damage to the rack.

Thank you! That gives me good questions to ask. The manager said he was going to look into it and call me back, so if he’s still saying that they didn’t cause the problem, I will ask about where it’s leaking from and go from there. And I won’t pay them to do the repair – I’ll take it to a local guy I can trust.

You guys ROCK!!! Firestone called back and they manager said they “just missed it” during their repairs and offered to fix it for cost. I confronted him with all the possibilities you guys gave me, and he backed down immediately, said he hasn’t been doing this long enough to know for sure, and said they would fix it for free.

I wish I could send you guys cake and flowers. Thank you!!!


Now get it in there quickly, before they “forget” that they weren’t going to charge you.

Although I am familiar with damaging the rack when improperly removing the inner tie rod I am not aware of any stress being exerted on the rack when adjusting the toe, @shadowfax. But apparently your insight rang some bells at that shop and hopefully the OP gets all that he/she deserves. +1 for Shadowfax.

Well, I focused on the tie rod mainly because the guy at the shop claimed they “never got anywhere near” the steering rack. That can’t be true, since the tie rod is connected to the steering rack, unless they never got anywhere near actually performing an alignment.

If you turn the tie rod without first loosening the boots, then the boots will twist. That will stop them from being able to expand and contract as you steer. Eventually they’ll tear, and let dirt and water into the rack, which eventually damages the shaft seal and causes a leak.

I don’t actually suspect that this is what happened to OP’s car, because I highly doubt a week is enough time for all that damage to play out. But given the average expertise of people working for chain tire shops, it wouldn’t shock me if they did something like jack the car up by the tie rod. At any rate, the fact that the manager lied about never getting near the steering rack raised my BS antenna and told me that either they broke it and lied, or they never did the alignment in the first place and lied about that. Either way, having to fix the steering problem for free might teach them a valuable lesson about not lying to customers.

Surely all Firestone franchises aren’t staffed by incompetent, unethical morons but the odds are in favor of it.

You don’t get anywhere near the rack when doing a toe adjustment.

You remove the small clamp from the rack boot, loosen the jam nut at the outer tie rod, and then rotate the inner tie rod by the flats to adjust the toe.



How do you remove the small clamp from the rack boot if you don’t get anywhere near the rack?

I consider you to be “near” a part if the part that you’re working on touches it or is in close proximity to it. As such, I feel that saying you don’t get anywhere near the rack when fooling with the tie rod is like saying you don’t get anywhere near the dust shield when replacing the brake rotor (which is another claim I’ve seen shops try to foist on people).

You reach in and remove the clamp.

How would that damage the rack?


The issue is not whether removing the clamp damages the rack. The issue is whether or not the shop even did the alignment. “We just replaced a couple belts - we didn’t get anywhere near the rack” tells me they either didn’t do the alignment, or they did something dumb and broke something, and are trying to cover it up by claiming they never got near what broke.

As for how it would damage the rack - it wouldn’t. But you’re assuming that they did the alignment properly without doing something stupid like jacking it up by the rack and damaging it, or grabbing the hydraulic lines and damaging them. That can be a tenuous assumption when talking about Firestone techs.

“tells me they didn’t do the alignment”

If they didn’t do the alignment, how did they break the rack if they were nowhere near it?


I don’t think I’m getting through on this one.

My suspicion is that either they charged OP to do an alignment that they never did (in which case, they ripped him off, and fixing the rack is good penance) or they broke the rack doing something idiotic and owe him the repair job anyway.

If the shop feels compelled to repair the leaking rack free of charge there is apparently some significant indication that their work might be responsible for the problem. But other than loosening the outer boot clamp to allow the inner tie rod end to spin in its socket the rack shouldn’t(?) be disturbed.

"Surely all Firestone franchises aren't staffed by incompetent, unethical morons but the odds are in favor of it."

Just as there are probably some competent & honest folks at places like Midas, Meineke, Monro, Sears, Pep Boys, and–maybe–even AAMCO, I don’t think that the odds favor customers who take their cars to these places.

The last time I was at a Firestone store, the manager turned pale when he saw me, turns out I look like the guy from the NY Attorney Generals office LOL.